‘Cairo Divided’ – A critical review/reflection

Less than six months ago, ‘Cairo Divided’ made its appearance. A two year collaboration between Jason Larkin of Panos Pictures and Jack Shenker, Egypt correspondent for the Guardian. ‘Cairo Divided’ is an account of Cairo’s attempted shift towards the Western standards of living, “an exploration of the city’s rapidly-mutating urban landscape”. A shift that initially might seem as an effort to upgrade the standards of living for many Egyptians and residents of the largest and most populous city of the Arab world and Africa.

‘Divided’ Cairo: A megacity turns itself inside out which was self-published in a 32-page newsprint format (both in English and Arabic) by Jason Larkin in association with Panos Pictures, a really intuitive format that made possible its release for free in the streets of Cairo, where the epicentre of social “deformation”.

Cairo Divided © Jason Larkin.

Cairo is a megacity inhabited by almost 20 million people and in an ever growing rate, it is expected to top 30 million by 2030. Worth mentioning that the standard of living in Cairo is not high and according to Larkin’s and Shenker’s documentation is about to get worse. The development planned by the city’s largest real estate agencies and corporations, which drew attention of foreign capital as well as local, is mainly directed to people holding enough money to escape a decaying city. Decaying because of the government failing to serve its people, in a city whose political and social fabric are torn apart.

The outcome of this transformation is not a consideration for the future. The outcome will not serve the rapid population growth of Cairo, but the needs of the rich people and their subsequent urge to acquire the western life-style packet (guarded communities, golf courses, swimming pools, satellite television, yachts and malls), the whole lot in the middle of the desert.

Cairo Divided © Jason Larkin.

Whilst the rich enjoy the complimentary treats in the exhibitions set up to sell the numerous villas, the poor will remain in complete chaos and desolation. The satellite cities build around Cairo will not just be a congregation of the privileged, but a centre for new economical and business ventures that will benefit their interests. A great deal of things are at stake while the gap between the poor and the rich is getting bigger.

Cairo Divided © Jason Larkin.

During my assignment on Creative Digital Practice (151MC) I did research on city regeneration planning and mostly centered my attention in European case studies. I found that many factors could lead to an unsuccessful regeneration, where many cases were mostly profit driven, but reading through Shenker’s essay, what is attempted in Cairo was beyond my imagination.

The essay is quite objective, includes facts, as well as interviews with a broad range of people, amongst them academics, a project manager, a sales representative, a former minister, a labourer and a psychiatrist.

To end this review/reflection I think that ‘Cairo Divided’ is a well-documented account of Egypt’s first steps into the 21st century, with simple, truthful, but stunning photographs from Jason Larkin and an amazing essay from Jack Shenker, covering the necessary political and social background of Egypt of today and the past, giving the context for understanding what is at stake.

Cairo Divided © Jason Larkin.

“For any social system to flourish you need different classes to have symbiotic relationship…

… and that gap has produced a very dangerous situation for the Egyptian society.”

– Professor Ahmed Okasha

Sources and information:

  • British Journal of Photography (December 2011 issue)
  • ‘Divided’ Cairo: A megacity turns itself inside out (2012) Jason Larkin, Jack Shenker

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